We all have a 'hidden compass' in our brains

Scientists Discover That Humans Can Sense Earth's Magnetic Field

Scientists Discover That Humans Can Sense Earth's Magnetic Field

An global team of neuroscientists and geoscientists from Caltech, the University of Tokyo, Princeton University and Tokyo Institute of Technology has discovered that the human brain can detect Earth-strength magnetic fields. Two simple rotations of the magnetic field appeared to trigger the response-movements comparable to a person nodding their head up or down, or turning it from left to right.

Hundreds of miles beneath our feet, floating molten liquid is churning away, driving the planet's magnetic field like a huge electromagnet. At the planetary surface, this magnetic field is fairly weak, about 100 times weaker than that of a refrigerator magnet.

A new study reveals human brain have the capability to sense the magnetic field. Humans do not have this protein inside their eyes but other studies have suggested that some animals are capable of magnetoreception as a result of complex neurological processes.

Magnetoreception, the perception of the geomagnetic field, is a sensory modality well-established across all major groups of vertebrates and some invertebrates, but its presence in humans has been tested rarely, yielding inconclusive results. If the brain is not responding to the magnetic field, then there is no way that the magnetic field can influence someone's behavior.

EEG, which records brain electrical activity and reflects information processing in many interconnected neurons, is an ideal tool to study subconscious processes in which physical stimuli are picked up by the brain but do not enter conscious awareness. Geomagnetic sense has been well studied by scientist as it is observed in migratory animals like birds and sea turtles.

The isolated chamber, within which participants had their brainwaves monitored by electroencephalogram (EEG), was housed inside a Faraday Cage, which shielded all interior contents from external electromagnetic fields.

Their study is being published by the journal eNeuro on March 18.

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"Inside the chamber is a set of large square coils, setup along three different directions (up/down, E/W, N/S) through which electric current flows to generate an Earth-strength magnetic field within". This allowed the scientists to see exactly how the brains of the volunteers reacted to changes in the magnetic field without any external influence.

"The brains were "concerned" with the unexpected change in the magnetic field direction, and this triggered the alpha-wave reduction".

"Alpha waves are EEG oscillations that go up and down at a frequency around 10 Hz", the researchers said.

This phenomenon is called alpha event-related desynchronization (alpha-ERD).

One of the EEG patterns recorded during the magnetic field shifts, called alpha-ERD, typically shows when an individual detects and processes a sensory stimulus.

Animals that use magnetic fields naturally filter out data from these senses that doesn't make sense - corresponding to these brought on by lightning strikes or severe human-made interference - so the truth that our brains seem to do the same factor suggests we might be able to faucet into the sense in the same means. Further research may provide new ideas about how humans and individuals evolved to have this ancient sensory system.

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